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Patterns in Love Relationships

written by: Kosjenka Muk

There are three basic ways in which we create emotional patterns and beliefs that shape our relationships:

  1. personal experience with parents: whether parents treat us with love and healthy appreciation, or in a controlling, humiliating and aggressive way, it will be the behavior that will become natural and expected to us, and we'll probably start to associate it with love. As small children, we'll also create an impression that it is what we deserve. If a parent acts like a victim, needy or dependent (e.g. addictions), we might develop a deep urge to help him and thus deserve love. In that case, even as adults, we'll still be attracted to people who seem to need help and sympathy. A big part of our intimate relationships might be described as subliminal attempts to earn love in circumstances similar as when we needed it most – in early childhood.

  2. modelling and identifying with parents' behavior and way of life. Children learn through identifying with parents, taking over their gender roles, behavior, beliefs and prejudice. It all becomes particularly obvious in our intimate relationships.

  3. Relationship between parents. The way parents treat each other and communicate to each other, words and idioms they use, the way they share (or don't share) work and responsibilities... the younger we are, the more likely it is that we'll accept it as normal. In our own misunderstandings and conflicts with our partners, it's easy to automatically repeat our parents' behavior and so create an atmosphere similar as in our early family. We might be so convinced such behavior is normal, that we might not even try to question or analyze our behavior.

A common example of complementary patterns is an emotionally closed, cold man and emotionally hungry, demanding woman. This is partly based on gender differences, but unhealthy family patterns are of crucial importance. Most commonly, such a closed man grew up with a pushy or needy mother, whether she was controlling him or playing victim. He developed coldness and withdrawal as a defense, often following a role model of an emotionally distant father. Sometimes both parents might be pushy, or the roles might be reversed. The female partner most commonly experienced growing up with a cold parent(s) who ignored her, often but not always father. Trying to get close to him and win his attention, she learned to use different approaches: trying to please him, crying, anger or complaints, sometimes manipulation and playing victim - whatever worked best or whatever she observed from her mother, for example.

A withdrawn, distant partner will trigger father-related memories and emotions in such a woman: abandonment, neglect, feeling unworthy. She will then automatically try to use her childish reactions, first in a mild, then more intense way. Her partner's own memories are then instantly triggered: a feeling that his boundaries are threatened, that he's being used and manipulated and has nowhere to hide... except within. Add to that low quality communication by both partners, also learned in their families... and a vicious circle is started, that creates more and more stress, disappointment, anger and resentment. In the same time, such partners hope that the other will change, and feel childish feelings of being trapped, as well as fear of abandoning all hope for love if the relationship is ended.

Unfortunately, most couples start looking for help only after their mutual trust is deeply damaged and motivation almost exhausted. Then even tiny details in the partner's behavior remind the other partner of all the past frustration and resentment. To start again, to practice noticing and correcting unhealthy emotions and communication together, might be extremely difficult if partners don't have patience left to allow each other to occasionally repeat old mistakes, while learning to communicate in new, unfamiliar ways.

Some other examples of bonding based on childish emotions:

  1. A woman attracted to a domineering, controlling man, who she perceives as strong, decisive and confident, just as she perceived her father who acted in a similar manner. Like she did as a child, she starts to hope that she will win and "earn" his attention and approval, becoming bonded by that hope. The man maybe had a mother who was childish or weak, and learned to perceive all women as such, probably following his father's model. In the same time, he might feel deep attraction based on unconscious hope that the important woman will finally change, take responsibility and start giving him the kind of love and approval he really wanted.

  2. A woman attracted to ambivalent, unpredictable men who act gentle and warm in one moment, only to change into aggressive and arrogant in the next. Their unpleasant behavior reminds her of her childish feeling of not being worthy, but then she longs even more for the comfort and support she feels in the moments of the man's pleasant and warm behavior. The man is likely to carry a deep inner conflict between different parts of his personality and defense mechanisms. For example, conflict between his healthy, warm feelings and anger and resentment towards parents, or perhaps he had to act one role in front of father, another in front of mother. Such a conflict cannot be resolved by rationalizing, willpower or external relationships.

  3. A man full of guilt and self-doubt, who enters a relationship or even marriage mostly to avoid hurting the woman. Of course, such decisions make him feel even more bonded by guilt and suppressed resentment, instead of by love. He might hope for resolution and forgiveness. He might fall in love with another woman, who will trigger his hopes of love and bliss, but will feel too guilty to leave the current partner. His partner might be controlling and manipulative, out of early childish conclusion that she can't earn or be given love, but has to control people to receive at least some kind of attention.

Everybody who ever fell in love, had a chance to experience to what extent the emotions from childhood are deep and overwhelming, to what extent they evade all rational arguments and decisions. If you are in such a relationship now, you have a perfect chance to recognize how you felt as a child and what do you still carry within. A chance, also, to change those feelings, primarily through healing your inner child, exercising self-love and learning quality communication. Under condition that you're not abused, it might be better not to force yourself to end the relationship by rational decision only.

If you end the relationship without resolving your emotional patterns first, it's highly likely that you will repeat similar patterns in your future relationships. Instead, focus on working with your emotions and inner child, until you feel the attraction to the unhealthy partnership diminishing, so that you can end the relationship without strong emotions and inner conflict. Or perhaps you will notice that, the more healthy and mature your behavior becomes, the more your partner will change in a similar way.

(back to part 1)

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." - C.G. Jung

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